- Early Renaissance Invective and the Controversies of Antonio da Rho
The study of humanism's development in Milan has too often been neglected in favor of a focus upon the achievements of Florentine humanism, but this disproportion in scholarly attention has been rectified in recent years by a variety of important studies. David Rutherford's edition and translation of two polemical works by the Milanese Franciscan Antonio da Rho contributes to this trend and demonstrates that Milanese humanism was quite advanced in the 1430s. Rho is an author hitherto known primarily in relation to Lorenzo Valla (he is one of the speakers in the first redaction of Valla's De vero falsoque bono; Valla later pilloried Rho's style in an invective of 1443, the Raudensiane Note), but he is now certain to acquire an importance in his own right. Rutherford has edited and translated a lengthy invective (termed a "philippic" by the author) that Rho took up against the [End Page 1167] humanist Antonio Beccadelli (commonly known as Panormita) and a shorter "apologia" that he wrote to defend himself to a member of his own religious order. Additionally, Rutherford has edited a number of other prose and poetic works, most of which were composed by Rho, in nine different appendices, thereby providing the reader with a substantial profile of a significant Renaissance humanist.
Rutherford's translations are quite accurate, and he has done a good job in rendering what is often turgid Latin. If Rho's style may not impress the reader, however, his erudition certainly does. In this regard, the Apology is especially valuable, as its autobiographical rehearsal of Rho's personal reading program and of his favorite authors is an excellent witness to both the tastes and ambitions of Quattrocento humanism in Milan, where the rich library of the Visconti provided ample opportunities for humanists like Rho. While Rho for obvious reasons displays an inclination toward the citation of patristic authors, his classical reading was remarkably various, and he seems to have known virtually every Latin author then in circulation.
In the Philippic against Panormita, Rho deployed the standard strategies of invective assault: ridicule of homeland and family origins, slanderous attribution of sexualities then considered deviant, criticism of both learning and literary style (oratio inepta), and feigned horror at the "obscenities" of the author being attacked. Indeed, humanist invective may yet prove to be of greater interest to literary and social historians as a genre that helps to define the borders or limits to which speech and/or writing were subject in fifteenth-century Italy. Given the attention that a work like Panormita's Hermaphroditus (the main target of Rho's Philippic) claimed on the minds of humanists and their patrons, it is surprising that a recent study of highly-charged language in the period (Martines's Strong Words ) should be nearly silent on the subject of humanistic discussions of obscenity, or the legal status of libel and slander in the period.
While it cannot be said that Quattrocento humanist invectives make for the most gripping reading experiences (the present reviewer abandoned a projected study of invectives after barely escaping from the Poggio-Valla and Poggio-Filelfo exchanges with his wits intact), Rutherford has prepared the way for some intrepid soul in the future; his introduction, which restores the figure of Jerome as an important classical antecedent for the genre of the invective, will provide the groundwork for a more comprehensive investigation of a literary form that ranks as one of the most productive (in quantity, if not in quality) for many of the Italian humanists. Perhaps a future investigator, armed (so to speak) with the theoretical tools of a Norbert Elias, or with the behaviorally-oriented perspectives of Frank Whigham's fascinating study of the social psychology of courtier culture (Ambition and Privilege ), will be able to unpack some of the deeper...